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Lauren Staley; Authentic Americana comes to Ybor

By ANDREW FOERCH

Atlanta-based Americana fusion band The Whiskey Gentry will perform live at Ybor’s Crowbar on May 6 in promotion of their new album Dead Ringer, which officially released last Friday.

The Whiskey Gentry, formed in 2009 by husband and wife Jason Morrow and Lauren Staley, will soon hit the road on an 18-stop tour beginning in Columbia, SC, and ending six weeks later in Chicago, bringing their new songs to bars and concert halls across the eastern U.S. The band’s name comes from a line written by Hunter S. Thompson – something about a mix of booze, failed dreams, and a terminal identity crisis.

Though they aren’t a local band, The Whiskey Gentry are certainly no strangers in Tampa. They’ve been playing in the Bay area since the year they were formed and regularly appear at New World Brewery in Ybor. The band has also performed at Skipper’s Smokehouse in North Tampa and at last year’s fifth annual Gasparilla Music Festival in Curtis-Hixon Waterfront Park.

The Whiskey Gentry’s sound is an up-tempo mosh pit of bluegrass guitar, mandolin and banjo strings with hard, punky drums; it’s country, but it rocks. Dead Ringer especially leans on that guitar – the project is laced with an edgier, grittier, more daring tone than most of The Whiskey Gentry’s past work. In an ocean of new wave country artists, this crew stands out for its authentic, original sound and creative writing. Plus, lead singer Lauren Staley has one hell of a voice – a voice Tampa will be able to hear next month at Crowbar.

The Minaret was lucky enough to speak with Staley just days after Dead Ringer’s release.

Minaret: Your third album, “Dead Ringer,” just came out on Friday – tell me about the making of this project.

Lauren Staley: We started writing a lot of these songs when we were out on the road touring for our last record. When we got done touring, we were hanging out here at our house. You know when you’re gone for a really a long time and it’s kinda strange to be back home? I knew that I needed to be writing songs, and I couldn’t write any songs. I was having a really bad writer’s block. Jason wrote the song “Following You” for me, to kind of be like, “Hey, don’t give up on this.” Because that’s kind of where it was.

I was feeling like I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to be at home with my dogs and in my house – we just bought a house – and so he was like, “no, snap out of it.” The next song I wrote was “Dead Ringer.” And then “Rock ‘n’ Roll Band,” and then things just started coming after that.

Once we got the group of songs together, we knew we wanted to record live, to track everything live together. We heard that Echo Mountain recording studio in Nashville was a really great place and so that’s what we did. We went up there and tracked everything live, in their big room together as a band, and we tracked it to tape, which was great.

The sound is a little bit different than the [earlier albums], but there wasn’t a lot of thought put into that, it was just kinda what happened. We toured as a five piece, like a rock band, so some of the songs are on the more “rock” side of things.

M: A lot of the album is about growing up – how have you grown up since you started making music?

LS: When I first started writing music, I was living in England. I was studying abroad. I had always written songs in college or whatever but was too scared to play them for anyone. I’d be like, “Hey, I sing, do you wanna hear?” and we’d go in a closet and I’d be like “Okay, don’t tell anybody.” I was very scared to perform. When I moved over there, I played my first show, and I was like, “Hey, people kinda like this, maybe I should do more of it.” I gained the confidence to join another band when I moved back home from England.

I guess, you know, when we started The Whiskey Gentry it was eight years ago. So many things have happened since then – I mean Jason & I met, we weren’t married at the time we started the band together. Then we got married, then we got a house, we have dogs and cats and things. I turned 30.

There are things that just changed over the course of the years where we take everything a lot more seriously now. This is what we want to do for the rest of our lives, and we want this to be our careers, you know? It’s the most fun job you could have, but at the end of the day it’s still a job too. We work really hard. That’s one major thing we’ve come to realize over the past eight years of doing this: you have to put in the work to get [something] back. It’s not gonna be handed to you. Working hard for that makes you grow up.

M: What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a musician?

LS: Probably teaching English, high school English!

M: You’ll be performing at Crowbar in Ybor on May 6 – what makes a Whiskey Gentry show different than any other country/rock/Americana show?

LS: I don’t know, I think we just like to have fun. We just like to be real about it too – there’s not a lot of bells and whistles. We play our music, we play our songs and we have fun doing it. I think that translates to the audience when they see the shows.

M: Is there a specific thing or a moment you look forward to when you play shows?

LS: It’s just fun to connect with the crowd. Like, especially down in Tampa because we’ve had support from radio stations and from people who enjoy us down there, its fun to watch them sing along. That never gets old – to see people know [your music] and like it enough that they’re gonna come out and see it and buy your merch. We always try to do our best for that reason. People don’t have to come see you play music. You don’t ever want to ever take advantage of that and not put your best foot forward.

M: Why should people listen to The Whiskey Gentry?

LS: We love country music. I think if anything, we put our hearts and souls into the stuff that we do, and I think that comes across. I think there’s a lot of terrible country music that is fake as shit that’s on the radio right now that gets a lot of attention. And there are so many other bands creating country music that is different but that still has heart and is authentic. If anything, it would be just to support that type of country music and to say “Hey, the shit that’s on the radio doesn’t have to be this way all the time.” [There are] lots of other artists and bands that are deserving of success that are real.

Andrew Foerch can be reached at andrew.foerch@theminaretonline.com

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